by | Dec 2, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Welcome to “Football Undercover,” where our guest tonight is a real live NFL referee. Good evening, sir.”


“I beg your pardon?”


“Sir, relax. You’re amongst friends. Perhaps you can explain to our audience why you’re wearing a bag over your head.”

“Heck, wouldn’t you? It’s open season on us referees. People threaten to kill us after every game! Besides, I made a bad holding call last Sunday and I’m sure that the lineman is following me.”

“Let’s talk about some of those bad calls. Are there really more this year?”

“I can’t answer that. I must confer with two other officials first.”

“Well, how about Sunday’s pass interference call on the last play of the Buffalo-New England game? Players were saying they can’t remember such a call on a Hail Mary pass.”


“Was it pass interference?”


“Sir, you’re being evasive.”

“OK, OK! Look. The quarterback throws the ball, seven guys go up for it, they’re all big, they all have long arms, somebody had to touch somebody, right?”

“Is that how you determine pass interference?”

“That, or the rhythm method.”

“The rhythm method?”

“You count how many plays it’s been since you’ve thrown the flag, and if it’s more than 10, you throw it.”

“I’ve often thought that’s how it’s done.”

“Can I go home now?”

“Just a few more questions . . .”

A new kind of justice

“How about holding penalties? In an October game between San Francisco and Indianapolis, there were two defensive holding calls that wiped out two Colts interceptions and allowed the 49ers to win. Even the league admitted they were bad calls. Was that true?”


“Then why did you make them?”

“We like San Francisco.”

“You like San Francisco.”

“Sure. City by the bay. Nice weather. Great restaurants. Have you ever tried to get anything besides a burger in Indianapolis?”

“But that’s not fair.”

“Fair? Is it fair that we have to wear striped shirts and those dumb caps? Is it fair that my microphone only works half the time? What’s fair got to do with it?”

“So you call penalties based on restaurants?”

“Is this bag still on my head?”


“Then the answer is yes.”

“Wow. What about the Thanksgiving game between Detroit and Pittsburgh? Remember, when the official tossed the coin for overtime, and Jerome Bettis clearly called ‘Tails’


” — yet the official insisted he called ‘heads’ — “


” — and a huge controversy erup — “


“Why are you doing that?”

“I’m just showing you how confusing it can be. Eighty thousand people, screaming like banshees, four football players who are panting and mumbling, and then you have to flip the coin and try not to hit anybody in the face, and all the time you’re wondering if room service is still going to be serving by the time you get back — it’s easy to make a mistake.”

“That’s not much of an excuse.”

“In that case, I must confer with two other officials.”

“Speaking of that, what do you refs talk about in those huddles?”

“Is this bag still on my head?”


“Then what we basically say in the huddle is, ‘Did you see it?’ ‘I didn’t see it.’ ‘Did you see it?’ ‘Hey, get that stupid linebacker out of here.’ ‘Did you see it?’ ‘Did I see what?’ ‘Who threw the flag?’ ‘Will somebody call something!’ “

“Boy, this is depressing.”

“Is this bag still on my head?”

Solutions, anyone?

“Just a few more questions, sir. Is it true that many officials are too old to keep up with the speed of today’s game?”

“Of course. Who can keep up with Deion Sanders? Half the time I’m breathing so hard, I can’t blow my whistle.”

“Maybe you should have more officials.”

“Where would we put them? We already have seven per game, a ref, a field judge, a line judge, a back judge, a side judge, a linesman and an umpire.”

“What does the umpire do?”

“Calls balls and strikes.”

“Oh, brother.”

“Heh-heh. We call that referee humor. Is this bag still on my head?”

“Look. This stuff is a serious problem. Players are complaining. Coaches are complaining. Fans are complaining.”

“Tell me about it.”

“And you still object to instant replay.”

“How would you like someone following you around with a camera? And when you tell your boss, ‘I never said that’ he pulls out a tape and shows that you did.”

“I guess that is kind of embarrassing.”

“Besides, we’re just referees. We’re human. We don’t even do this job full-time. Most of us have other jobs.”

“That’s true. But you do get paid around $1,400 a game to start, and can make
$12,000 just for working the Super Bowl. That’s a lot of money.”

“Do you know how much bodyguards cost these days?”

“So is there any hope for better officiating?”

“Not really. This happens every few seasons. People get all worked up over the refs, then some athlete gets arrested with a stripper and they go on to that.”

“Well, thank you for coming on the program and being so candid.”

“No problem.”

“By the way. What is your full-time job?”

“Me? I work in a supermarket.”

“A supermarket?”

“I need the bags.”

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581 or E-mail

He will sign copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” 7-8 p.m. Friday at Borders in Ann Arbor, 7-8 p.m. next Wednesday at Barnes & Noble in Troy, and 7:30-8:30 p.m. next Thursday at Borders in Dearborn.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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